By Ned Steele
Ah, the joys of owning a boat! Buying it … financing it … insuring it … cleaning it … maintaining it … repairing it … storing it … worrying about storms …. and so on.
Or, you could call Tonya Lee.
Lee is the friendly manager at Waves Boat & Social Club, just over the south bridge at 1530 Stickney Point Rd., and she and the Waves team will do all the work for you, leaving you with one simple task: Get out on the water and have a good time.
Waves, as its promotional material says, is “an affordable and worry-free alternative to owning or renting a boat.”
The proposition is straightforward — you demonstrate to Waves that you can handle a boat, you hand over a lump sum once a year (far less than the cost of buying), and you’re eligible to take out any of the 60 or so boats the business owns, full or half day, as often as you like (pending availability) at no extra cost except for gas.
There are pontoon boats, flat bottoms, deck boats, and fishing boats — mostly between 20- and 24-footers.
“No yachts,” said Waves director Aaron Dressel.
Most of the approximately 500 Waves members head for the Intracoastal Waterway and surrounding waters, with Big Pass, New Pass, and Longboat Key among the most popular destinations. They can go out for the morning, afternoon, or all day. Boaters can also book for overnight, if they have a safe dock to anchor in for the evening. Night boating is not permitted.
No one gets out on the water until they pass a three-hour training course to the satisfaction of the Waves team.
Some members need to take it a few times, but all pass eventually.
“We’ll keep training people until they feel ready,” Dressel explained.
Key skills that Waves requires its boaters to master include anchoring, throttling, reversing, navigating, and calling for help. Even co-pilots and passengers are expected to know the latter.
All boats have a VHF radio on board for emergencies, but boaters who need assistance or have questions usually just whip out their cellphones. Life vests, fish and depth finders, and a compass are all standard equipment. As an added convenience, a dockmaster is always on hand to assist the return to the dock.
The company owns the boats, and assumes all the financial obligations. Unless you run aground, crash, or break something.
It doesn’t happen often, Dressel and Lee say, but if it does it will cost you something. It’s not terrible — the maximum damage charge is $2,500, and Waves offers insurance that lowers the individual liability to $200. One thing that Waves hasn’t had too much trouble with is storms. When one comes, Dressel said, “We batten down the hatches.”
Damage to boats from Ian, for example, was limited to decks littered with roof shingles that had flown off buildings lining the marina on both sides. “We’re pretty sheltered here,” Lee explained.
Dressel, a former golf pro, and his wife, Carissa, started the business 20 years ago. She’s the top banana, the company president. Now there are five locations in the area: Philippi, West Bradenton, Venice, and Englewood.
Bob Bolier of Sarasota has been “a happy member of Waves for seven years.” He and his girlfriend reserve a deck or pontoon boat about once a week in season, load it up with friends and family, and cruise the Intracoastal Waterway. Sometimes they dock for lunch or stop for a swim off a sandbar.
“I never owned a boat and wouldn’t want to,” Bolier said. “This is a very convenient way to enjoy the water without the hassle of ownership.”
The cost of entry to the Waves club is a one-time initiation fee of $4,900 and annual dues based on the plan chosen which include weekday only, unlimited, or partial year. The dues range from $2,150 to $3800 yearly, with various options.
And what about the “social” part of the Waves club name?
If you yearn for even more fun than the pleasure taking a boat out to fish or chill for the day hassle-free, you can join your fellow club members for occasional sunset cruises, dinner cruises, and even bowling.
No training required for participation in those.
To learn more about Waves, call (866) 857-1018 or visit WavesBoatClub.com.